Postmodernist architecture emerged in the 1960s as a response to the prevalent Modernist architecture and the international style promoted by the likes of Philip Johnson and Henry-Russel Hitchcock. Postmodernist style, first proposed by Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi in their book ‘Learnings from Las Vegas’ sought to break away from the restrictions of modern architecture such as its unyielding doctrines, uniformity, lack of ornamentation, and a tendency to ignore the local context of history and culture. Venturi further formalized postmodernism in his book ‘Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture’ as follows:
“I speak of a complex and contradictory architecture based on the richness and ambiguity of modern experience, including that experience which is inherent in art… I welcome the problems and exploit the uncertainties… I like elements which are hybrid rather than “pure”, compromising rather than “clean”, …accommodating rather than excluding… I am for messy vitality over obvious unity… I prefer “both-and” to “either-or”, black and white, and sometimes gray, to black or white… An architecture of complexity and contradiction must embody the difficult unity of inclusion rather than the easy unity of exclusion.”
This experimental and hybrid approach flourished in the 1980s and 1990s and gave us some memorable buildings.
1. Vanna Venturi House, Pennsylvania, USA
The house designed by Robert Venturi for his mother Vanna Venturi is the earliest example of postmodernist architecture. Venturi designed and built the house from 1962 to 1964. Venturi went through six versions of the design before finally settling on the design scheme for the house. Situated on a flat site, surrounded by trees. Salient features of the house included a pitched roof as opposed to the flat roof, a closed ground floor as opposed to an open floor plan, and a purely ornamental arch on top of the front door.
2. Piazza d’Italia, New Orleans, USA
The Piazza d’Italia, located in New Orleans, is a public plaza designed by Charles Moore in 1978. It was originally meant as a tribute to the Italian citizens of the city. The Piazza features a series of colonnades, arches, and a bell tower set around a central fountain. As the nearby buildings were developed the Piazza got a facelift in 2004.
3. The Portland Building, Portland, USA
Designed by Michael Graves of the Memphis group, the Portland Building is considered a classic. When it opened in 1982, it was starkly different from the other office buildings of the time. Some important features of the building were the use of materials and colors, smaller windows, and other decorative flourishes such as stylized classical elements of exaggerated keystone and pilasters.
4. The Neue Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, Germany
Though designed by the British firm James Stirling, Michael Wilford, and associates, the building is largely attributed to James Stirling. Built-in the duration of 1979-1984, this building unites the modernist elements with classicism such as travertine and sandstone juxtaposed with industrial green steel framing.
5. M2 building, Tokyo, Japan
Designed by Kenzo Kuma and completed in 1991, this building has an assortment of stylistic elements. Constructed in reinforced concrete, it has a multitude of classical details such as dentils, corbels, triglyphs, and arches of varying scale. Originally designed as a Matsuda car showroom, the building now is put to use as a funeral home.
6. MI6 building, London, UK
The SIS or MI6 building has housed the secret service of the UK since 1994. Terry Farell designed the structure in the late 80s. The architecture is influenced by industrial architecture such as power stations and Aztec or Mayan temples. The conflicting influences have come together to form a unique structure.
7. James R. Thompson Center, Chicago, USA
James R. Thompson’s center is where the offices of the Illinois state government are located. Helmut Jahn, known for his futuristic designs was the one who designed this building. The main feature of the building is an atrium which lets the visitors see all 17 storeys. A glass exterior modulates around the building to form a shell.
8. Dolphin and Swan Hotels at Walt Disney Resort, Florida, USA
Designed by Michael Graves, the Dolphin and Swan Hotels are designed to have brightly colored animal themes exterior which makes them instantly eye-catching. The two hotels are connected by a palm tree-lined walkway and house 22,000 rooms.
9. A House for Essex, Wrabness, United Kingdom
A House for Essex was designed by a collaboration between Greyson Perry and FAT Architecture. The idea was to build something which was a work of art in itself and also a setting for an artwork by Perry. Completed in 2015, the house is recent in the list of postmodern works yet it embodies the principles of the movement.
10. Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain
Frank Gehry was chosen to design the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. The director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, Thomas Kren, encouraged Gehry to be daring and innovative. Completed in 1997, Gehry’s design was unusual in every way. Salient features of the building are the organic form of the building and titanium exterior made to catch the light. Though Gehry himself has rejected any labels for his architecture, his work challenges the traditional notions about buildings and hence can be categorized as postmodernist.